Robert Scoble was one of the key note speakers at the Reboot conference last week in Copenhagen. Like some 1500 of his colleagues at Microsoft he blogs frequently and openly on issues that are work related. Not always does what he blogs fit well with his company, he can be very critical of his employer, or with his readership (he defends controversial MS issues just as energetic as he criticizes other points, although sometimes he comes back on that gracefully). How come that this doesn’t backlash at him?
Being a blogger-in-residence with a company, blogging is like pushing a membrane. A membrane that seperates the organisation from its environment. Where marketing and pr often really increase the distance between company and environment (thickening the membrane), blogging seeks to penetrate the membrane. The membrane can be seen as the collective cultural and behavioural aspects that make up the company and make it different from the rest of the world. Pushing against the membrane will result in resistance; the membrane is flexible but it is still a barrier of sorts. Pushing too hard might make the membrane snap back in your face. That is when you know you may have crossed a boundary within the organization that others don’t feel entirely comfortable with.
Key is what happens when that membranes hits you in the face. If you have a good social network in place, that carries the trust that you as a blogger also have the interest of the company at heart, and the conviction that any issues can be discussed openly and securely within the company, then that network will help you cushion the backlash of the membrane. It will lead to reflection within the organization on how to move on.
If you lack such a social network, then chances are you find yourself without a job real soon, as happened to that guy at Google. A clear case of not having invested in your relationships within the company, says Robert Scoble.
A membrane, with both its elasticity and resistance, as a metaphor for the cultural border/divide between an organization and its environment is I think a useful one. It gives expression to something all employees, and customers for that matter, might recognize to some extent. For companies and employees thinking about starting an external weblog associated with both a person and a company, it makes sense to think about the membrane beforehand. Not to lay down rules in advance, but to make sure that there is continuous feedback from colleagues to the weblogging employee, as well as to ensure that there is a space to talk things over when an issue arises. Only in this way can you make sure that the weblog lets the authentic voice of the author ring true as well as conveys the values of the company in question.